Men's Basketball: Ollie and Hoiberg are not only competitors, but longtime friends
Kevin Ollie directs the Huskies against SMU. He looks to advance past Iowa State this weekend at Madison Square Garden. LINDSAY COLLIER/The Daily Campus
NEW YORK - It started with a recruiting visit in 1990 when both men were still in high school, and now after almost 24 years, the bond between UConn's Kevin Ollie and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg remains unwavering.
Ollie's Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles is over 1,700 miles away from Hoiberg's Ames High School in Ames, Iowa, but Lute Olson, the then-Arizona head coach in 1990, brought the two men together in Tucson, Ariz. and informed them that he had only one scholarship remaining, and whoever was the first to accept it, would become a Wildcat.
Neither of them took it, as they went on their separate ways.
"[Hoiberg] went to Iowa State and I went to Connecticut and I think it worked out for both of us," Ollie said.
Both men finished four-year careers at their respective schools before joining the NBA. Hoiberg played a decade in the league while Ollie's career spanned 13 seasons.
In 2001, fate brought the two together once again when Ollie signed with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent and became teammates with Hoiberg.
Though their camaraderie in Chicago lasted only one season, it left lingering impressions on both men's minds.
"Just one of the greatest teammates I've ever been around," Ollie said of Hoiberg. "Personable, would do anything for his teammates."
"Kevin and I weren't very good players," Hoiberg said, "but to stick around, me for 10, him for 13 years, you have to have some of those qualities to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was."
Hoiberg's playing career was cut short by an aneurysm of the aortic sinus and underwent surgery in 2005, but he didn't step away from basketball and moved into the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2006.
Two years later, Hoiberg needed to find a veteran with leadership qualities for his Minnesota squad and Ollie's name immediately came to mind.
"We needed a mentor-type guy when I moved on after my surgery into the front office, and the first guy to call was Kevin, because I knew the impact he would have on our young players," Hoiberg said.
Ollie, who bounced around from team to team throughout his journeyed NBA career, was grateful for the opportunity.
"I was at the end of my career and he took a chance on a 37-year-old point guard. He signed me for one year, and I thank him for that also," Ollie said.
"[Ollie] owes me, because I resurrected his damn career," Hoiberg joked to the media on Thursday.
Now with the Cyclones and the Huskies scheduled to square off in the Sweet Sixteen at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, Hoiberg acknowledged the significance of the occasion.
"Any time you get to share this experience with somebody you're very close with, I think it makes it special," Hoiberg said. "Kevin is as good a person as there is in this business. I think everybody that knows him, you're not going to find one person say anything bad about him."
Ollie, too, realizes the difficulty of going up against one of his close friends, but also understands he needs to set the friendship aside for just one night.
"It always makes it tougher," Ollie said. "You don't want Fred to lose, but I don't want UConn to lose either. So it's always tough coaching against one of your great friends. But at the end of the day we are both competitors, we both love our university, and once we get in those lines, you pretty much don't have any friends, and you want your university to come out on top."
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